It's like ultrasound probing the belly of Earth.
A view beneath an African lake, courtesy of research by a Syracuse University earth sciences team and a gift of new software.
New softwarepart of a $402,000 package from Houston-based Landmark Graphics Corporationallows students and faculty to peel back Earth's layers by translating computer data into 3-D images "understandable to a layperson," says earth sciences professor Chris Scholz.
Oil and gas exploration companies use the same software to hunt for energy deposits and extract vital resources. Scholz and other SU researchers use this technology to better understand and portray Earth's hidden recesses to students and research grant providers. According to Scholz, principal investigator for the Landmark gift, work that took weeks using pencil and paper is now performed by memory-rich computers in a matter of hours. "Only a small number of academic institutions have such leading-edge resources," Scholz says.
Scholz's research, sponsored by the National Science Foundation and Rift Basin Industrial Associates, a consortium of eight oil and gas companies, has focused on the East African Rift Valley and the Baikal Rift of Siberia. His collected data cut through space and time, revealing the shape and consistency of a landscape over the ages. "The world's large rift valley lakes are outstanding laboratories for understanding the interaction of tectonic, climatic, and depositional processes, and are particularly useful for developing models of hydrocarbon exploration in ancient rift systems," Scholz says. "These large, deep lakes contain thick accumulations of sediment dating back millions of years, and are among the highest quality archives of climate change on the continents."
The grant, which includes upgrades and technical support for the software, provides students with the educational benefits of new high-tech imaging, and practical training for possible future professions. "Students entering our industry today must have a solid foundation in using new technology, as well as an intuitive understanding of how to work effectively on multidisciplinary teams," says Bob Peebler, Landmark's president and CEO. "This grant ensures that students at Syracuse University are prepared for the rigors of our fast-paced industry."
Landmark Graphics Corporation is the leading supplier of integrated exploration, drilling, and production information systems and professional services that enable petroleum companies worldwide to find, produce, and manage oil and gas reservoirs more effectively.
Scholz's next research journey will take him to Africa's Lake Edward, one of several lakes in the slowly widening East African continental rift. In preparation, Scholz built a modular catamaran to ensure suitable transportation for his team and its equipment, which includes an air cannon for firing charges into the water and listening devices to catch returning sound waves. They are now waiting for civil unrest in the region to fade before they gather more data and make more images.
For more information on SU's research program on the East African rift lakes and other large rift lakes, visit http://rifts.syr.edu.
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